October-December 2013

Far from a chance to take a breather after the hectic summer, the last quarter of 2013 was another tremendously busy one for the Trust.

The priority during October was getting the Trust’s new website up and running, a mammoth task in which all members of staff – as well as many volunteers - played a part. Although likely to be a work in progress for some months to come, the updated website is now working and contains many new features and some brilliant photos. The Trust welcomes any comments or suggestions as it continues to refine and improve the site.

The last Burhou visit of the year was made on 25th October. A handful of staff went over during a lucky weather window to dismantle PuffinCam and get back the equipment for the winter. After a very busy seabird season it was very strange being on the island when there were no birds around, but we did find a few enormous horse mushrooms which were taken back to the Georgian House for dinner! Shortly after this, the Trust’s workboat, Sula, was lifted out of the water ready for her winter overhaul and re-paint: we hope she will be ready to go back into the water by the end of February 2014.

 

In early October the Alderney Wildlife Trust hosted a group of schoolchildren from the American School in London, laying on a wide range of activities from boat trips to bunker digs, and foraging to cycle rides. Despite somewhat unpredictable (and occasionally downright unpleasant) weather conditions a good time seemed to be had by all.

During mid-October staff braved a rough crossing on Sula in order to attend the 2013 Inter Island Environmental Meeting (IIEM) held in Guernsey at which both Aurelie and Anne-Isabelle gave presentations - on “LIVE” (PuffinCam) and Living Islands respectively and Tim Morley, the Trust’s Seabird Ecologist, took this opportunity to hold a meeting of the Ramsar Steering Group which was able to discuss the 2013 season’s work and various other issues.

Woodland Week 2013 took place during the last week of November. In addition to a further 440 trees being planted, a new section of path was opened along what was believed to have been an old track: there is still work to be done here, with the bottom slope requiring some mechanical levelling, but it is already proving an interesting route through the heart of the woodland. Local crafts provided another interest with sessions of willow weaving, dry stone walling and greenwood turning all proving popular. Building on this, Andy Black is hoping to run a dry stone walling course in the new year and Paddy Campbell has inspired staff and volunteers to try their hand at producing artefacts from local sycamore.

 

December saw several events being hosted in Cambridge Battery at Fort Tourgis which is currently being renovated by the Living Islands team, ably assisted by the States of Alderney work force. “ Starry Skies” was the first of these; after a mostly fine day, however, evening cloud resulted in little but a tantalising glimpse of what might have been. Certainly this is an excellent place to enjoy Alderney’s dark skies in the future. Participants on the Boxing Day walk enjoyed their mince pies and mulled wine in the Battery’s setting, and were given a guided tour of the work completed so far. Then, on 28th December, residents and visitors were invited to help continue with the work on the Battery. Unfortunately the weather yet again was against us and although a very wet and bedraggled workforce achieved a fair amount, it might have achieved so much more if only the elements had co-operated! Work is on- going so please drop in and have a look.

 

On the wildlife front late autumn saw plenty of good insects in Alderney, with some enjoying a very long season. Clouded Yellow butterflies were flying right up to the start of November. Our iconic Convolvulus Hawk-moths turned up in numbers during October, with the last of more than 30 being found in Victoria Street on 1st December. There were plenty of two of our key species, Flame Brocade and Oak Rustic, and on 24th October, a Red Sword-grass moth came to light, definitely the first Alderney record and possibly the first for the Channel Islands. However, the moth attracting most attention was the beautiful shining white micro, Palpita vitrealis. This normally rare migrant produced 30 records for 2013, a tally beaten only by the remarkable year of 2006. We managed to rear a second generation in captivity and found that the caterpillars took well to jasmine, instead of their normal food plant, olive. We believe this is only the second time this tropical species has been bred in the British Isles. By keeping the larvae and pupae in an airing cupboard, the entire generation of P vitrealis, from eggs to emerging moths, took just 41 days!

David Wedd reports that there seem to be far more moths hibernating in the German bunkers and tunnels this winter than for the last two. Watch will be doing a survey again, and it will be interesting to see whether the numbers are a forecast of a cold winter ahead or are simply a reflection of a good breeding year. The main species are Bloxworth Snout, about twice as many as in 2012, and Herald, 85 in one tunnel where there were 7 last year!

There were no exceptional bird sightings in the last 3 months. The Gannets left Les Etacs around 22nd October and birds were seen flying around for a short period after that. Martin Batt spotted a Snow Bunting on the Giffoine on 27th October and Tim and Anne-Isabelle had


a Bullfinch in the Bonne Terre on 4th November. A few sightings of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were reported, Gadwell, Shoveler and Teal have been at Longis Pond and there were the usual Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit migrations with small flocks of each passing through. Seals have been spotted in various places including Clonque and Corblets.


The Watch Group youngsters have achieved another first, with their 11-year-old trio of Deborah Etheredge, helped by Katie Shaw and James Hope-Smith, producing an entertaining and brilliantly coloured 6-page newsletter. They had remarkably little adult help and Deborah’s editing showed real ability. It has been very well received (you can see the pdf on this website.) Watch has also planted crocus bulbs (donated by the Royal Horticultural Society) in many gardens around the island, and the youngsters have set poppy seeds in numerous waste patches, with another planting due in March to encourage a long flowering season. The aim is to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Finally, the Trust welcomed Cristina Gonzalez as Conservation Officer in mid November with the task of updating Reserves management plans and creating one for the Community Woodland. She immediately found herself thrown into Woodland Week where, amongst other things, she ‘turned’ wood with the best of them!